Some people follow a certain baseball team because of where they live - a coworker of mine grew up in Pittsburgh, so he follows the Pirates. Others are fans of a certain team because of a particular player - I know someone who likes the Yankees because of Derek Jeter. I, however, am a little different. Growing up in Puerto Rico, we did not have a professional baseball team nearby, and there were so many Puerto Rican players throughout the Majors that it was hard to follow a particular team. I did follow the New York Mets for a while, because they were on TV a lot and they had cute players, but for the most part, I just followed the game itself, rooting for players like Kirby Puckett, Robin Yount, Wade Boggs and Jim Abbott. Then I lived in Massachusetts for 12 years, and refused to become a Red Sox fan because they were an American League team (though I did root for them whenever they played against the Yankees). Things were pretty similar when I moved to Maryland - I just couldn't follow the Orioles because of their American League status, yet I respected Cal Ripken and Mike Devereaux. But then in 2005, the Montreal Expos moved to Washington, DC. There was my chance to finally pledge my allegiance to the home team; the opportunity to own an overpriced baseball jersey with a team name in the front and a player's name on the back (that happened last year, when I got my #7 Rodriguez jersey for Mothers' Day). I was excited! I was pumped up! I was going to learn the ins and outs of Nationals baseball, learning all about their lineups, their charity work, their front-office staff, and their minor-league prospects. And that has been the case, especially since my husband is also a baseball fan and has learned about "all things Nationals" with me. However, the one thing that I have not experienced as a fan of a particular ball club for the past few years is a winning season. The Nationals have struggled since moving here from Montreal, and despite having a new ball park, a handful of dedicated fans, and a lot of talented players, they just haven't been able to get it together. It seems like when someone shows some promise, something happens to stifle the hope. Last year, for example, all the talk was about 2009 first round draft pick Stephen Strasburg, who could throw over 100mph and could strike out everyone in his path. Well he started out great, with his sold-out debut in Nationals Park last summer and baseball fans getting on the Strasburg bandwagon. Well that quickly ended, when Strasburg hurt his pitching arm last August, requiring season-ending "Tommy John" surgery. This type of surgery has become pretty common nowadays and many pitchers come back stronger than before, but it requires at least a year of rehab, so the Nationals have to spend the entire 2011 season without their young ace. Then there was the acquisition of Jayson Werth from the Phillies, which was supposed to provide the power in the lineup that they had lost when Adam Dunn went to the White Sox. Well, Jayson "Werth-less" has been quite disappointing, though I must admit he's been doing better at the bat lately and his fielding is solid. Then there's Ryan Zimmerman, a former Gold Glove/Silver Slugger third baseman who has been the most consistent franchise player that the Nats have had since they moved here. Well Ryan suffered an abdominal injury last month, and has been recovering from recent surgery. He is expected to return after the All-Star break, when it will be too late in the season to move up much in the standings. And pitching? Last year it was the starters who had problems, and this year it is the bullpen. The starters are pitching solid baseball, but the bullpen is giving up too many runs and the offense is not helping them out.
So why continue to be a Nationals fan, when it seems like all we get from them is doom and gloom? Because eventually, someday, they will be a good ball club. Every team in the Majors has had its heyday season, and the Nationals will too (even if it takes 100 years for them to win a World Series, like it did for the Red Sox). Someday the Phillies will suck, the Marlins will be awful, the Mets will be terrible, the Braves will be weak, and the Nationals will prevail in the National League East. I may be old and crotchety when it happens, but I will be able to say that I've been a Nats fan since they moved to DC, and I stuck by them through thick and thin.
(Now do me a favor, Nationals players: Don't look foolish this afternoon in your game against the Phillies. Yes, Roy Halladay is pitching. Yes, it's Memorial Day and you have to wear those ugly red-white-and-blue jerseys. Yes, it's going to be over 90 degrees outside with a dew point of 150. But please, don't do anything stupid, and please get some hits! Thank you!)